Hoosier remarkably improved
As he answered every question about coming home for the first time since his days at DeMatha, Victor Oladipo almost never flinched. It's no more overwhelming for the junior guard to handle the extra friends and family who will watch him play Thursday at Verizon Center than it is to lead No. 1 seed Indiana into the NCAA tournament's East regional.
But Oladipo laughed -- hard -- when asked what is most different about him since his previous game at the arena, when the Stags beat Ballou in the 2010 city title game.
"A lot of things are different," Oladipo said. "I'm just not the same player, period. Whether it would be I'm bigger or just a better overall skilled, a better leader, just everything. My basketball game has changed significantly since the last time I've been here."
|NCAA Sweet 16|
|No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 4 Syracuse|
|When » Thursday, 9:45 p.m.|
|Where » Verizon Center|
|TV » CBS|
While Oladipo has grown into an all-around force, the Hoosiers (29-6) also have changed over the course of his tenure. As Indiana went from a 12-win team his freshman season to being ranked No. 1 in the preseason and for much of the year, Oladipo dramatically improved. Since then, a player primarily known for his leaping ability has doubled his scoring from 7.4 to 13.6 points per game. His 3-point shooting has jumped from 30.8 percent to 43.3 percent. He's a better rebounder, has a better handle and has transformed himself into an NBA lottery pick.
"People don't give him as much credit as he deserves, but he definitely honed his skills," said Syracuse freshman forward Jerami Grant, a former teammate at DeMatha. Oladipo called Grant his little brother, citing older brother and Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant as his best friend since his freshman year in high school. That's when Hoosiers coach Tom Crean was first intrigued by Oladipo's eye contact as much as his insatiable desire as a defender.
"There has to be intangibles and the edge, the eye contact, the awareness, the absorbing," Crean said, reflecting on the edge to Oladipo's game. "All those things are huge, but you've got to have -- for lack of a better phrase -- you've got to have a real chip on your shoulder. There is nothing wrong with that."
Cody Zeller was the multifaceted 7-footer who graced magazine covers proclaiming Indiana as one of the season's favorites. But Oladipo is the national player of the year candidate, not to mention the heart and soul of a team that has precocious offensive firepower but has been pushed around at times during the season.
Toughness, both mental and physical, will be a theme in the Sweet 16 against the Orange (28-9), who are back at the site of their historically awful defeat to Georgetown on March 9.
"It was definitely a point of the season when we could have just gave up and had an early exit," Orange forward C.J. Fair said. "At that point, we weren't playing like our normal selves. It's hard because you're losing games and people are getting frustrated. I think we turned it around where now we're on a positive note."